This is truly the golden era for plant sciences. One key sign of this is the announcement of the winners of the competition to become HHMI Investigators in Plant Sciences.
HHMI, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has for many years picked HHMI Investigators in Biomedical Research. Those picked get guaranteed funds for 5 years and become technically employees of HHMI in order to get them out of miscellaneous burdensome university activities. It’s a win win situation for universities because HHMI pays for space and salaries for the Investigators. I myself tried to get me one of these “Uncle Howie” types of positions a few years ago but did not win out. My brother, Michael, did. The other people they picked the year they picked Michael and not me were all very good, so I actually did not feel so bad about not getting it.
HHMI has also invested in other areas related to biomedical research including funding Janelia Farm, and Early Career Scientist program, as well as many educational activities.
The GBMF, aka the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has itself made major contributions to science and medicine in various ways. One example is the Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI) (which funded the iSEEM project for which I am PI) and cool work out of many top marine labs. In fact, the MMI program did something rarely seen outside of HHMI – they funded “people not projects” by creating MMI Investigators who got a good chunk of money to do pretty much whatever they wanted.
Thus it was great to hear some time ago that GBMF and HHMI were coming together to create a Plant Sciences Investigator program. I confess even though I am not a real plant biologist I considered applying for this because I have shifted much of my work recently into studies of plant associated microbiomes. But I did not apply. And I kept wondering – who would emerge from the competition as winners. Would they be people I respected/had heard of?
Well the wait is over. Last week the winners were announced: HHMI News: 2011 Plant Science Program HHMI-GBMF Investigators. And it is quite an incredible crew. The press release from HHMI-GBMF is quite useful (unlike many press releases in the sciences). Here is a list of the winners with some additional details (taken from the HHMI site – I hope they do not mind).
JUNE 16, 2011
2011 Plant Science Program
It is a phenomenal crew. I know many of them personally and professionally and there is no doubt they are among the most creative and productive in life sciences, let alone in plant biology. Philip Benfey at Duke has been involved in this massive DARPA project in which I have also been involved on the “Fundamental Laws of Biology” and he in part is what inspired me to get more into plant – microbe interaction studies. I have known Jeff Dangl at UNC for many years and in addition to always being impressed with his science his recent shift to working on “microbiomes” of plant roots has inspired me to do more experiments in model genetic hosts. This is part of why my lab is now involved in studies of microbes associated with rice and corn. I have also known Joe Ecker for many years too (I worked on the Arabidopsis thaliana genome sequencing paper in which he was involved) and every time I see him I end up wanting to do another plant associated project. And I have seen him and Jeff Dangl a lot since they have both been outside advisors to a variety of DOE-JGI projects in which I am involved. I worked with Elliot Meyerowitz on a National Academy of Science panel that came out with a report on the future of the life science “The New Biology for the 21st Century”. Elliot was a steadfast defender of basic science and small scale science in that panel. I interacted with Craig Pikaard many years ago regarding the finding of a novel RNA polymerase homolog (RNA pol IV) in the Arabidopsis genome. I could go on and on but won’t. Suffice it to say, I am very impressed with the collection of people that are the winners of the competition.
I will however go on and on a bit about one other thing. Two of the winners are from UC Davis: Simon Chan and Jorge Dubcovsky. Both are phenomenal and great to have on campus. In fact, Davis is one of only two places that has two winners. Duke is the other one. UCSD sort of has two if you include Joe Ecker from Salk which is around the corner. This makes me proud to be at UC Davis which is a hotbed for good plant biology research.
Anyway, I think it is great that both HHMI and GBMF are getting more into plant sciences – especially now that federal funding programs are hurting a bit.
As a last little bit here, here are some fully open access papers by this crew:
- Integrated functional networks of process, tissue, and developmental stage specific interactions in Arabidopsis thaliana
- Population- and genome-specific patterns of linkage disequilibrium and SNP variation in spring and winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)
- Nucleotide diversity maps reveal variation in diversity among wheat genomes and chromosomes
- Nucleolin Is Required for DNA Methylation State and the Expression of rRNA Gene Variants in Arabidopsis thaliana
- Alignment between PIN1 Polarity and Microtubule Orientation in the Shoot Apical Meristem Reveals a Tight Coupling between Morphogenesis and Auxin Transport
- Small RNAs, DNA methylation and transposable elements in wheat
- Detecting separate time scales in genetic expression data
- Arabidopsis thaliana Chromosome 4 Replicates in Two Phases That Correlate with Chromatin State
- Variability in the Control of Cell Division Underlies Sepal Epidermal Patterning in Arabidopsis thaliana
- Two Plant Viral Suppressors of Silencing Require the Ethylene-Inducible Host Transcription Factor RAV2 to Block RNA Silencing
- RNA-Silencing Enzymes Pol IV and Pol V in Maize: More than one Flavor?
There are many many more – yet another thing I like about this group.